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Christian Urban Legends

Six fictional events that were exposed
by the Institute for Creation Research.

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Below are listed six of the Christian urban legends exposed as false by the Institute for Creation Research in their Science, Scripture and Salvation radio program on 1999-APR-17: 1

bulletCharles Darwin's deathbed conversion: A woman by the name of Lady Hope allegedly visited Darwin shortly before he died and heard his deathbed conversion to Christianity. This event might have happened, but it is extremely doubtful. Lady Hope did visit Darwin, but it was originally believed to be "in the fall of 1881, about 6 months before Darwin died." 2 Many historians believe that he had lost his faith completely some 30 years before his death, when his beloved daughter Annie died. One researcher, Richard Rorty, tracked down over 100 occurrences of the legend, and successfully showed that Lady Hope (Elizabeth Cotton) did exist, and probably did visit Darwin near the end of his life. But he discounts the possibility that Darwin abandoned his Agnostic beliefs. His family energetically denied his conversion. His daughter Henrietta commented in 1922: "I was present at his deathbed. Lady Hope was not present during his last illness, or any illness. I believe he never even saw her, but in any case she had no influence over him in any department of thought or belief. He never recanted any of his scientific views, either then or earlier. We think the story of his conversion was fabricated in the U.S.A. . . . The whole story has no foundation whatever." 3
The fable appeared in the 1955-OCT issue of the Reformation Review and in the 1957-FEB issue of the Record of the Free Church of Scotland. It circulates widely on the Internet via Email and is seen on many creation science web sites.
 
bulletCharles Darwin confesses evolution is a hoax: We received an E-mail in 2003-SEP which said that evolution is a hoax. Darwin just "thought it up" and presented it as truth even though he knew it had no evidence to back it up. It is doubtful that anyone reading Darwin's books (On the origin of species, The descent of man, The voyage of the Beagle: Charles Darwin's Journal of Researchers, Charles Darwin's Zoology Notes and Specimen Lists from H.M.S. Beagle, and his autobiography) could come to this conclusion. His finding that evolution happened and happens through natural selection is based on a massive number of observations of nature. There is a second indicator that Darwin was serious about his theory: why would he have exposed himself to such hatred and vilification from religious sources if he did not believe that his conclusions were accurate?
 
bulletThe missing day of Joshua: This urban legend refers to a computer program at NASA which experienced an apparent bug. In some versions of the legend, Mr. Harold Hill, president of the Curtis Engine Company in Baltimore Maryland publicized the event. The NASA computers were running a program that computed the locations of the sun, moon, and planets at any time in the future or past. The purpose of the program was to prevent artificial satellites from colliding with these objects. This allegation is a good indication that the story is an urban legend. Even satellites which are in geosynchronous orbit are only 22,241 miles (35,786 kilometers) above the surface of the earth, whereas the moon is more than ten times further away, and the sun and planets are tens of millions of miles from earth. 4 So there is no possibility of a collision, and thus no need for such a program. The legend maintains that the program allegedly failed consistently at a specific date in the past. Exactly 23 hours and 20 minutes was missing back in the time of Joshua. Someone at NASA allegedly went back to his/her office, read Joshua 10:12-13, (which talks about an interval of missing time approximately one day in duration) and the account of Isaiah's visit to Hezekiah in 2 Kings 20:8-11 when God was said to have caused the sun to go backwards by 10 degrees and produce an additional 40 minutes lost time. This information accounted precisely for the entire loss of time. The main problem with this legend is that computer programs couldn't fail in this way, even if a day were missing; the program would continue to subtract dates in times in increments of 24 hours. 5

NASA's Public Affairs office has stated that "There is no truth to the recurring story that NASA uncovered a lost day in the movement of the Earth." However, Harold Hill publicized the legend in one of his books "How to Live Like a Kings' Kid." 6

Snopes.com comments that this is a very important urban legend for those who believe in the inerrancy of the Bible. It it were true then:
 
bulletIt would show that the Joshua passage is literally true, even though its description of missing time seems very strange to-day.
 
bulletIt shows that the Bible authors knew more about science than do the scientists. Scientists and religion collided and the Bible is proven superior.

Unfortunately for Bible literalists, the legend is not true.

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bulletJanet Reno critical of Christians: This rumor became public in a 1993 conservative Christian newsletter. It was later widely circulated by Email and Fax. It involved former Attorney General Janet Reno being interviewed on 60 Minutes. She allegedly defined what a cult member is: 

"A cultist is one who has a strong belief in the Bible and the Second Coming of Christ; who frequently attends Bible studies; who has a high level of financial giving to a Christian cause; who home schools for their children; who has accumulated survival foods and has a strong belief in the Second Amendment; and who distrusts big government. Any of these may qualify (a person as a cultist) but certainly more than one would cause us to strongly look at this person as a threat, and his family as being in a risk situation that qualified for government interference. Waco was one of those situations that qualified under our definition of people being at risk that necessitates government action to save them."

According to the Justice department, the controversial statement first appeared in the "Paul Revere Newsletter" published by the Christian Defense League in Flora IL in its 1993-AUG issue. 7

The facts are that Ms. Reno had never appeared on 60 Minutes prior to the time that the rumor started to circulate. She avoids using the term "cult" and "cultist." She as never defined either of them in public. The story was triggered by a newsletter in Illinois who later printed a retraction. 8 Unfortunately, once urban legends are launched they are often unstoppable.
 

bulletEarthquakes are increasing: The rumor is that earthquakes have been increasing in frequency and/or intensity in recent years. This legend is often heard in connection with end-time prophecy - predictions about a coming end-of-the-world scenario. This is commonly called TEOTWAWKI (The End Of The World As We Know It). Conservative Christians generally interpret Matthew 24:6-16 as predicting the precursors that will be observed prior to the tribulation, rapture, second coming of Jesus, war of Armageddon, etc. Matthew 24:7 states: "...there will be earthquakes in diverse places." Near the close of the 20th century, many religious conservative anticipated the end of the world in their immediate future, perhaps in the year 2000. They naturally assume that the Bible's predictions refer to the present time, and that earthquakes are currently on the increase. Actually, they are decreasing. Geologist Steve Austin said on the ICR program that he has a data base containing information on about 4 million earthquakes. Their frequency has been decreasing during the 20th century.
 
bulletVultures multiply in the valley of Armageddon: According to the Book of Revelation, massive armies will converge on this valley to wage war. The vulture legend has been traced to a Christian tract published in the 1970's. It said that ornithologists have observed that vultures in that area have been laying twice as many eggs as normal. The suggestion is that the birds are building up the population of scavengers, preparing for an upcoming war with its availability of dead bodies to munch on. The story, of course, is groundless.

References used:

The following information sources were used to prepare and update the above essay. The hyperlinks are not necessarily still active today.

  1. The Institute of Creation Research (ICR) is a Fundamentalist Christian organization which promotes creation science: the belief that God created the earth, its life forms and the rest of the universe about six to ten thousand years ago. Their radio program, Science, Scripture and Salvation is heard on hundreds of conservative religious radio stations in the U.S. The episode on 1999-APR-17 dealt with what they called "Christian Urban Legends." Their web site is at: http://www.icr.org
  2. James Moore, "The Darwin legend," Baker Book House, (1994). Review at: http://www.leaderu.com/
  3. Simon Yates, "The Lady Hope story: a widespread falsehood," at: http://www.ediacara.org/
  4. "Geosynchronous Orbit," Space Academy, 1995-DEC-15, at: http://liftoff.msfc.nasa.gov/
  5. "The Lost Day," Snopes.com, at: http://www.snopes.com/
  6. Harold Hill, "How to Live Like a King's Kid," Bridge Publishing, (Reprinted 1980), Pages 65-77. Read reviews or order this book safely from Amazon.com online book store
  7. "Urban myths within the Christian community," Focus on the Family, at: http://www.family.org/ 
  8. "Janet Reno defines 'cultist'," About.com at: http://urbanlegends.about.com/

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Copyright © 1999 to 2009 by Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance
Latest update: 2009-SEP-04
Author: B.A. Robinson

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